Bodybuilding for Athletes
You need bigger muscles to lift more weight! It’s a simple fact. The more muscular tissue and muscle mass you have on your frame, the more weight you will be able to lift. Although big muscles aren’t a necessity for some athletes, hypertrophy is a driving factor for improved athletic performance.
When you look at the fastest sprinters, longest jumpers, and furthest throwers, you will see a lot of lean muscle mass. Even in endurance athletes like swimmers or cyclists, they might not be the biggest in terms of muscle mass, but they have plenty of lean muscle required for their sport.
Athletes should be constantly breaking down and rebuilding their muscles during training so that their performance is on point come game day. In this article we will touch on what bodybuilding for athletes means, why it’s worth doing, and 5 exercises that you should include in your training as an athlete. Let’s hop right in.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Hypertrophy and Muscle Building?
Hypertrophy is just the growth and increase of muscle size through exercise. Believe it or not, there are multiple types of hypertrophy that can determine how your muscles grow. The different types of hypertrophy will also determine how your body reacts to different channels of fatigue and how it performs as a whole.
That first type of hypertrophy is going to be myofibrillar hypertrophy and this is where you will see an increase in the number of myofibrils. This type of hypertrophy is going to increase the overall strength of a muscle fiber and of a muscle cell. This is the typical form of hypertrophy that people think of to gain muscle through high amounts of volume.
Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is the immediate effect you get from lifting, otherwise known as “the pump”. This is when your cells start to widen, swell, and get bigger. Instead of stopping at 12 or 15 reps, you’ll be goin up to extremely high rep ranges like 25, 30 reps, or maybe even failure.
That third type is going to be tendon, also known as joint capsule hypertrophy. This is going to be responsible for about 20% of the size of your muscles as you start to get bigger. As you increase the loads and the stress on your body, the body will release hormones that signal to grow for the future. It’s just your body’s way of adapting to be able to handle extra force over time.
Tendon and joint hypertrophy is going to be stimulated mainly by bigger, more intense compound lifts. Athletes often think that hypertrophy comes from high rep schemes with isolation exercises. This is true when it comes to myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic, but this is not the case with tendon hypertrophy since it requires so much more neurological stimulation.
Should Athletes Do Bodybuilding Exercises?
Bodybuilding for athletes is an important part of training, especially when you’re early in a program. In the off-season or at the beginning of a season, this is where you will have time to grow and improve weaknesses in your overall performance. Since you are not focused on ultra specific training and specialization for your sport just yet, the off-season is the perfect time to sprinkle in some variation.
The types of athletes that tend to do the most bodybuilding work are strength and power athletes like weightlifters, powerlifters, football players, and throwers. Although, there is nothing with doing bodybuilding exercises as long as it won’t hinder your performance for your sport. There is a fine line between doing bodybuilding work to target weak areas and then doing too much that it hinders your sport.
A good example of bodybuilding negatively affecting athletes is if a swimmer puts on too much muscle in the off-season. Yes, this is a real thing. If a swimmer is doing rows, lat pull downs, and and shrugs for 3 months while putting on weight, they can lose much needed mobility in their upper back and shoulders. Yes they may be stronger in their pull, but they might be sacrificing full extension or ROM for a stroke like butterfly or backstroke. So what bodybuilding exercises should you do if you’re an athlete? Below are 6 hypertrophy exercises that you should be doing to build muscle as an athlete.
6 Bodybuilding Exercises for Athletes
Slow Eccentric Back Squat
That first exercise that is going to build muscle for athletes is going to be a slow eccentric back squat. Sure, you might be thinking that squats are a given in any program. These aren’t just your regular squats just for hitting a certain weight.
Since the goal here is to be as hypertrophic as possible, that means more stress on the muscles that we want to target. What’s a better way to breakdown muscles than slow eccentric movements? Not just a three second descent, but a longer four to five second descent into the hole.
If you want to maximize hypertrophic gains, there are a few cues to keep in mind throughout the lift. The first is to make sure you are rotating your feet out slightly so that your knees have less of a chance of caving in when you stand up. The second cue is going to be driving through the feet very aggressively while keeping the chest high. With these tips, you will be able to load your entire leg properly and really feel that mind muscle connection throughout your sets.
As for rep schemes to follow, perform 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps at a medium to heavy weight or 2 sets of 12 reps at a medium weight. To increase that fatigue and encourage muscle breakdown, take 60 to 90 seconds between reps so feel that massive glute, hamstring, and quad pump.
Your arms are small because you’re not doing dips of any kind. You can do tricep extensions and close grip bench all day long, but nothing is going to help you hit that full range of motion like a dip. Not only are dips going to blow up our triceps, but they’re going to build shoulder stability that transfers to other exercises.
Doing weighted dips is where you can really go crazy with different rep schemes. Playing around with different rep schemes is going to give us that good neurological stimulation that we need to maximal hypertrophy. One sequence that you can do is 9-7-5-3-5-7-9 and then finish with a monster 13 reps at just bodyweight. This is where that sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is going to set in because the 13 finishing reps will create that massive arm pump.
Deadlifting is one of the exercises that is going to create the most neurological stimulation for hypertrophy. Hypertrophic growth is going to come from multi-joint movements, heavy loads, and the usage of larger muscles. The deadlift checks all these boxes as it is going to fire up your posterior chain, engage your entire core, and allow you to move more weight than any other lift besides maybe squats.
Deadlifts are great for all types of hypertrophy because you can mix in both eccentric and speed reps at different rep ranges. To maximize that neural drive and while doing a decent of volume for myofibrillar hypertrophy, do 4-5 heavy sets of 2 reps at around 85-90% of your one rep max. Then bring the weight down to 60-70% and hit 2 sets of 9 speed reps. Almost in a drop set fashion so you can get a nice pump in your posterior chain to hone in on the sarcoplasmic hypertrophy.
Another exercise you can do to get a massive back is the seal row. The seal row is going to be a form of chest supported row that is going to need you to be on a raised bench. The seal row is different from the deadlift because it is more of an upper body back exercise rather than one that focuses on your posterior chain.
Not many gyms have an elevated flat bench or at least one that goes high enough for you to extend your arms. So you can do this exercise by stacking from bumper plates under a flat bench to raise it up a little higher.
One of the unique aspects of the seal row is that it allows you to engage hip drive into the movement. For the seal row, make sure that your feet are grounded to the back leg post or something behind you so that you can drive through the legs and press your hips into the bench. This is going to help you make the seal row an explosive movement and pull that bar to the top of the bench as fast as possible.
Another variation of the seal row that can be done in any gym is just a chest supported row on an incline bench. This is going to allow you to use dumbbells instead of a bar and incline benches are more common to find in commercial gyms compared to high-raising flat benches.
Again, the seal row is still an exercise where you can pile the weight on in the beginning of the rep scheme and then really push the volume toward the end with a few sets at 12-15 reps.
A lift that is going to give you a crazy quad pump and lead to a ton of gains in your quads is going to be the hack squat. The hack squat is not a favorite of many lifters, but the variations you can do on the hack squat are what make it such a great tool for growing your quads.
For the hack squat, you want to follow the same premise as the slow eccentric back squat where you are going to control the first 6-8 reps. Although, you’re not getting off that easy and that’s not the end of your set. Instead of aiming for a rep goal on the hack squat, set a time goal instead. After 6-8 reps, spend another 60 seconds and do an AMRAP. Just push the reps and speed to really feel that burn and swelling in your quads.
You can even do variations like the duck stance hack squat or the knees to toes hack squat that was popularized by Tom Platz. By extending the range of motion of the hack squat and isolating every muscle fiber in your legs is going to lead to greater hypertrophy.
Sled Pull and Push
That final bodybuilding exercise for athletes is going to be a sled push and pull. This is arguable the best finished knee health and also just forcing more blood into the quads after heavy squats or a few sets on the hack squat.
The goal of hypertrophy is to get as much blood flow and as much stimulation into a certain area and doing sled pulls and pushes is going to meet that exact expectation. This is where you can really push the volume at the end of a workout so that your legs are shaking while you walk out of the gym. Do 2-3 sets of 12 lengths on a turf. One thing to remember with the sled pull and push is to really drive and grind through the pain during the push portion. Build that explosiveness and move the sled as fast as you can.
Final Thoughts on Athletic Bodybuilding
As an athlete, you need big compound movements to not only improve performance, but also stimulate the body in an aggressive way to encourage different adaptive responses. Bodybuilding is essential for athletes that need to address points of weakness and build muscle in areas that will benefit them for their sport. As an athlete, really focus on bodybuilding during the off-season or early in the season so that you can have that strength when it comes time to compete and specialize in the sport-specific goals.
If you want to see what different types of accessories and compound lifts you should do for your specific sport, sign up for the Peak Strength app. Peak Strength is the app we created here at Garage Strength to allow any athlete to have specialized training that relates to their exact sport. Join the Peak Strength family and get your athletic bodybuilding program to become a BEAST!
In this blog, we looked at the 3 basic forms of endurance-based training. We also went into depth about mitochondrial functionality. In addition, we provided four protocols that can be used today to improve overall endurance. Give it a go, let us know how it goes, and comment below!
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Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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